Hugh Downs, whose smooth delivery and warm demeanor led to a seven-decade career in television news and talk, died Wednesday at the age of 99, according to reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times.
USA TODAY has reached out to reps for Downs.
From morning to night, Downs2/14/21 became one of TV’s most familiar faces, at one point holding the record for most hours – 10,000 – in front of a television camera (a record later broken and held today by Regis Philbin).did we doublecheck whether Philbin still has the record?
He co-anchored NBC’s “Today” show from 1962 to 1971, but is probably most remembered for his 21 years as co-host of ABC evening newsmagazine “20/20” (both alongside Barbara Walters), and his signature sign-off: “We’re in touch, so you be in touch.”
And he stayed in touch, even after his official retirement from “20/20” in 1999, doing voice-over duties for a number of documentary films and specials through the 2000s. “Gosh, I’d like to lie on a beach for six weeks,” he told USA TODAY on his retirement. “But I knew by the end of the first hour I’d be thinking of something else to do, and I’d start doing it.”
Born in Akron, Ohio, his history dates from the medium’s formative years. He got his start on radio in Detroit and Chicago – “I thought TV wasn’t anything that was going to stay,” he told USA TODAY; “I viewed it as a gimmick, like 3D” – before jumping to the vibrant new medium in 1949, as announcer on the classic kids’ puppet show “Kukla Fran and Ollie.”
He served as the announcer for one of the earliest incarnations of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” starring Jack Paar, in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He launched one of the ’60s most popular daytime shows, the memory-matching game “Concentration,” serving as host for more than 10 years even as he continued his “Today” duties. And he hosted PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcasts for much of the ’90s.
“Downs was actually an early pioneer in the infotainment industry that seamlessly seems to blend news and entertainment,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, “a reassuring, relaxed and silky smooth television talent.”
Downs’ wife, Ruth Shaheen Downs, whom he married in 1944, died on March 28, 2017, at age 95.